"Ambitious teaching = rigor + equity. What does this mean for the Next Generation Science Standards?" This provocative question, posed at a conference last week by Mark Windschitl of the University of Washington, has been a framework for me for the last few days not just for thinking about science standards, but also for thinking about teaching in general.
First off, I like the term "ambitious teaching." Ambitious teaching sounds accessible, because, well, that means we as teachers can all aspire to high goals--and if we don't succeed, we can always try again! It's kind of like a "growth mindset" for teaching. Ambitious implies continuous growth, as opposed to reaching an endpoint.
Ambitious teaching in the context of the Next Generation Science Standards? That means rigor for both the teachers and the students--the new standards marry science practices, disciplinary ideas, and cross-cutting concepts in a way we haven't seen before. This will challenge our teaching, and it will also challenge our students. How to get the students to achieve this level of rigor? Growth mindset might again be part of the answer: Ann Renker, principal of Neah Bay Middle and High School, serving the Makah Indian reservation, has had remarkable results with growth mindset and incorporating the ideas of “hard work, not natural intelligence” throughout the school.
The Next Generation Science Standards have been designed from the ground up with equity in mind. Previous national science standards were based overtly, explicitly and almost exclusively on European tradition: Science for All Americans, basis of the National Science Education Standards, stated, "The sciences accounted for in this book are largely part of a tradition of thought that happened to develop in Europe during the last 500 years – a tradition to which most people from all cultures contribute today."
So how are the Next Generation Science Standards different? Engineering has never before been found in standards the way it is now--engineering is incorporated throughout the standards, and engineering is a strong way to recognize the contributions of many cultures. Around the world, engineering has been a way to solve problems in local contexts. One example of local engineering? Check out that amazing vine bridge at the top of this post--it's from Guinea, West Africa, where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. The Next Generation Science Standards say, "Engineering is particularly important for students who traditionally have not recognized science as relevant to their lives or students who come from multiple cultures in this global community."
Besides the inclusion of engineering, the "Making Standards Accessible to All Students" Appendix D mentions the focus on practices and concepts. Because there is this focus on understanding science as opposed to learning facts, and because so much thought and planning has been put into vertical alignment of the standards, the standards are designed to help level the playing field in terms of providing science background knowledge to ALL students.
Can the structure of the science standards themselves lead to reaching diverse student groups? Well, clearly standards structure itself is not sufficient. However, in designing a set of science standards, it is an intriguing concept to keep in mind.
Phyllis Harvey-Buschel, from Washington MESA, said, "This all looks good on paper, but how can we get this to happen in the classroom?" Good question. So what can this equity look like in Washington state? As part of a bias and sensitivity review, OSPI had small groups work on the beginnings of studies about meeting the needs of diverse student groups in Washington. I got to be part of a group working on science teaching strategies for economically disadvantaged girls in rural areas.
We know that girls tend to be more interested in biology than in other sciences--there really isn't a gender gap in biology. My team decided to use one of the resources we have--girls' interest in biology--to get the change we want: increased female interest in engineering. We would capitalize on girls' interest in biology to hook them on engineering. Use what you have: Carrie Tzou of the University of Washington-Bothell said, "Both teachers and students bring with them deep cultural knowledge, Don’t just acknowledge it, use it."
We also know that girls are often the helpers in society--perhaps a "helping" project might appeal to them. An engineering project that might meet the criteria of being biology related and with the possibility of helping someone? Designing or evaluating a prosthetic arm. A correlated NGSS performance expectation? Engineering HS-ETS1-3: "Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural and environmental impacts."
Science teaching strategies for working with economically disadvantaged students, major racial and ethnic groups, students with disabilities, and English language learners are all found in Next Generation Science Standards Appendix D--it's worth a look!
So can we make all of this work in real classrooms? Well, it's time to give it a try. Our state should adopt these new science standards. And after adoption? Implement them with rigor, equity, and enthusiasm!
Note: Individuals mentioned in this post spoke at the UW Summit on K-12 Science Education, organized by the Institute for Science and Math Education; or at a series of Next Generation Science Standards pre-adoption activities organized by OSPI.